She woke up with sweat trickling down the sides of her face into her ears. A strange night. Bad dreams. It was gross but why worry about it? She changed and went back to bed.
It happened again a few nights later. Well, the weather was getting very warm now, and she was still using blankets. Did she eat peppers? Maybe it was her period. Who knew.
Went on for weeks. She told her mother about it who frowned in silence, and then smiled without her eyes. I’m sure it’s just stress, honey. You have to relax. You study too hard. So she started wearing a light robe in the morning so that her mother wouldn’t notice that she was wearing something different than what she went to bed in.
One morning she couldn’t get out of bed at all. Well, she did walk a lot the day before. And she didn’t eat any snacks before she went to bed so she was probably just weak from hunger. Plus it was finals. It was a hard time of year for her and her mother, anyway.
A few nights later, she was rubbing some lotion on her face, bringing it down onto her neck and massaging upward with her fingertips, the way her mother had taught her. She stopped. She tried her fingers again, and once more she stopped. It felt a little round and firm. She checked the other side of her neck but it didn’t feel the same. She dug with both sets of fingers and ignored the sound of bees raging in her ears. After all, she hadn’t been feeling very well lately. Between the sweats and the fatigue, she was probably getting run down and sick. Could even be mono. She’d heard the virus could reactivate.
Or a muscle knot.
The next morning, she and her mother stood before her mother’s dresser, looking at a photograph of her grandmother. The picture was delicately tinted, and her grandmother’s lipstick was subtly applied 1940s-style. There was something about the shape of her face, her jaw, that reminded her of herself. When did Grandma first know something was wrong?
“Oh, your grandma… She loved you so much.”
She nodded. It was early May. In her new room, the room she had sworn to God she’d never enter, her grandma lay unsmiling while her daughter and granddaughter chatted. They said good-bye and that they’d be back later. They were back later. She remembered standing at the foot of the bed, crying and calling her name, until the paramedics calmly, in the midst of chaos, told her she should probably leave the room. For months, she could not get the sound of that voice out of her head. “No shock advised.”
Each year they had a Mass said for her grandmother. “…To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom…”
“Get up!” her mother hissed, pulling her arm. She lifted her head and looked all around; everyone was already standing.
The next morning, she told her mother she was going to see her doctor for a quick checkup. The school was requiring that they be up to date on vaccinations or something.
“Ah, I wouldn’t worry too much,” he said. “I have a nagging feeling it’s your thyroid. But we’ll check out that other thing to be sure.”
While she lay on the papered bed staring at the water-stained ceiling, she listened to the song playing from the speaker above faintly through a static filter. The technician, a young woman, pressed and clicked, pressed and clicked, pressed and clicked. She would never forget that song for as long as she lived.
Written for “September Scene Writing Month.”